Friday, May 17, 2013


Today is May 18th – well, it is here in New Zealand. Everywhere else it's only the 17th. But here, where I am, it's the 18th and it is my birthday.

Today in history, according to my Book of Days, Napoleon was proclaimed the Emperor of France in 1804. In 1944 the Polish Army captured Cassino, and in 1151 Saint Eric the King of Sweden was martyred. The Order of the Bath was founded in 1725 – that was the ceremony for creating knights, and involved actual bathing as a symbol of purification. Only the Brits could create a chivalrous order named after a bath.

Some significant people died on 18th May. Among them, in 1703, was Charles Perrault, whom we must thank for Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and many other fairy tales. Novelists Nathaniel Hawthorne and George Meredith died in 1864 and 1909 respectively, and Bishop Nicolas Longespee died in 1297. Yes, Longespee. I don't know what the Bishop did to deserve his place in the Book of Days, except possibly thump those who enquired what the record was, and whether anyone could enter.

However, according to the book, no one of note was born on this day. It was published in the fifties, well before celebrity culture devalued everything, so there are no film stars and sports persons mentioned. The day is therefore mine alone. It has usually slipped by unremarked, but occasionally it has been special, and sometimes unexpected.

For example, this day in history, on my tenth birthday, I woke up in Baghdad, in a hotel overlooking the mighty Euphrates river that roared muddily past the windows. That morning my mother, two brothers and I climbed into a rackety aeroplane and leaned against the icy fuselage – there was no heating or air-conditioning, no trolley dollies, no seats, only benches along the sides – for the flight to Teheran, where we would live for two years.

My eighteenth birthday was spent in the misty hills of Sri Lanka. My parents and I were sailing to England from Rangoon, there was engine trouble, we had disembarked in Colombo, and decided to spend a few days up-country away from the humid heat. On my thirtieth-something birthday I was in Kangaroo Valley (London) surrounded by Aussies and Kiwis and the Indians from the flat upstairs. We all went to a real Indian restaurant for a celebratory curry dinner.

On this day perhaps three decades later I was taken to Jade Stadium and handed a can of beer while cheering the Canterbury Crusaders as they beat the Wellington Hurricanes at rugby. I understood etiquette demanded that I throw the empty can at a policeman after the match, but decided instead to leave it in a corner with several others.

Today – memorable or slipping by? Who knows. All together now: HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!

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